Naoshi Mizuta has become one of Square Enix’s most prominent musicians in recent years, thanks in large part to his work on Final Fantasy XI. The game’s alienating nature as an online entry in the long-running franchise extends to its soundtrack, a collection of memorable compositions that are criminally overlooked. Though the Star Onions have made arrangements of Mizuta’s material in the past, XI Chips takes his work into new territory with outstanding results. As a retired adventurer of Vana’diel, I found abundant joy in this faux-retro celebration of the music from Final Fantasy XI.
Much like the fantastic SQ Chips (and soon-to-be released SQ Chips2), the tracks in XI Chips are a recreation of classic Final Fantasy music in a chiptune style. “Battle Theme” makes it easy to visualize a pixelated Tarutaru whacking away at a Tunnel Worm in the sepia-tone Gustaberg barrens. The harmonious “Voyager – Airship” evokes images of a boat traveling across a Mode-7 ocean into some uncharted frontier. “Shadow Lord – Awakening” is a manic re-imagining of a sinister orchestral tune with a thumping backbeat that keeps a high energy level through its crescendo and beyond.
The highlight of the album is undoubtedly the three-nation medley, “The Kingdom of San d’Oria – Ronfaure – The Republic of Bastok.” (Despite its misleading name, the song contains an arrangement of the Windurst theme as well.) It’s a relentlessly peppy seven-minute musical journey through the most recognizable songs from Final Fantasy XI, and, with a focus on each nation’s distinct melody, it’s sure to elicit a reaction from anyone who has ever called Vana’diel home. The inclusion of some more sophisticated synth and drums in a few tracks keeps the album from sounding authentically 16-bit, but I imagine only the pickiest of listeners would leverage this fact against an otherwise blemish-free listening experience.
For those who have fond memories of Final Fantasy XI, this album is a treat that absolutely shouldn’t be missed. Wonderfully evocative, playful, and nostalgic, this music should bring a smile to even the most jaded Galkan mercenary’s lips. The uninitiated would do well to check out the source material for these songs, which are great tracks in their own right, and then return to XI Chips for a heaping helping of chiptune goodness.